New in theaters
In 'The Jane Austen Book Club,' five women and one man meet to discuss the British novelist's work – and watch as their lives turn into a scene from 'Emma.' Also, Dane Cook's latest misfire, and 'Dragon Wars' in the heart of Los Angeles.
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Director: Mark Helfrich. With Jessica Alba, Dane Cook, Dan Fogler. (96 min.)
Enigmatically popular stand-up Dane Cook takes a step away from his audience-friendly "Employee of the Month" and ventures into unnecessarily raunchy territory (with a questionable opening scene that some might mistake for child pornography). Cook plays a dentist whose sexual mojo women believe will bring them luck in finding a spouse, a lame macho gimmick that Cook's innate and ill-channeled charm cannot cure. Tony-winner Dan Fogler ("Balls of Fury"), as Cook's childhood friend, is embarrassingly foul, and even criminally cute Jessica Alba is wasted, playing Cook's painfully clumsy gal pal/penguin nut in this alternately warm and ugly ball of whacks. Grade: C
– Robert Newton.
The Jane Austen Book Club (PG-13)
Director: Robin Swicord. With Maria Bello, Jimmy Smits, Emily Blunt, Ellen Burstyn. (105 min.)
The gifted screenwriter Robin Swicord, in her directorial debut, adapts the 2004 bestselling novel by Karen Joy Fowler with mixed results. The setting is Sacramento, where five women and one man meet to discuss Jane Austen's novels while their lives come together and pull apart in ways that seem lifted from the pages of "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice," et al. It's a funny conceit, and the actors – who include Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, and Hugh Dancy – are fun to watch. But the entire enterprise ultimately seems designed to turn Austen into a self-help guru. Grade: B–– Peter Rainer
Still in theaters Dragon Wars (PG-13)
Director: Hyung-rae Shim. With Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks. (90 min.)
The concept here is fun – good and evil dragons of ancient Korean legend do battle in modern-day Los Angeles – but a lazy and amateurish script and embarrassingly hollow acting hobble it right out of the gate. The computer graphics and action sequences are impressive, further widening the disparity that riddles this "Transformers" and "The Host" wannabe. Veteran writer-director Hyung-rae Shim, who seems amazingly inexperienced, employs names from legend such as "Yu Yi Joo" and "Imoogi" in a dreadfully serious manner, naively expecting us not to giggle and automatically file it away with silly childhood things such as "Pokémon" and so many other half-baked "Godzilla" knockoffs. Grade: D+ – R.N.